2016 NEC Basketball Media Day Notebook

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(Photo: Bob Dea – Blackbirds Hoops Journal)

This past Wednesday, the Northeast Conference conducted their annual NEC Basketball Social Media Day for the fifth consecutive season at the Barclays Center, home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and NHL’s New York Islanders and once again, all ten NEC men’s head basketball coaches were in attendance along a student-athlete representative from each team.

As is the case during the preseason, hope springs eternal and everyone seemed to be in very good spirits as we are just days away now from the start of the 2016-17 campaign.

I got the opportunity to speak to eight of the ten NEC men’s basketball coaches and players with the expectations of Bryant’s Tim O’Shea and Central Connecticut’s Donyell Marshall but I was able to watch NEC Front Row/ESPN3 production put on by the wonderful people at the Northeast Conference after the event and got to hear from all ten men’s basketball coaches and players.

Here now are some notable quotes from the men’s basketball head coach at the 2016 NEC Basketball Social Media Day:

CCSU head coach Donyell Marshall on how his first preseason with new team is progressing – “It’s been great. Guys have been going very hard at each other. The competition level has been great. The upperclassmen have been receptive to the younger guys and the younger guys have been pushing the upperclassmen. I think it is going to make us a better team and the culture has changed. The excitement around there is great and we’re ready to get started.”

Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea on his feelings about this season’s team – “I like my team. I think we have some really good young talent. I think we went through a rebuilding year (last season) and lost some really good players which teams goes through in this league. I think we’re ready to play at the top of the league again.”

O’Shea on his freshman point guards – “We have two really exceptional freshman guards that have had a big impact already between our (summer) trip to Italy and what I’ve seen in practice so far. Ikenna Ndugba and Adam Grant from Norfolk, Virginia. They’re both going to be impact guys. They don’t play like your typical freshman so I think it gives us a chance to be really strong in the backcourt. Our front court is proven and with four starters back so there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about our team.”

Bryant senior forward Dan Garvin on his goal for 2016-17 – “My goal this year is to led the league in rebounding. With the new players we have as well with the returning players, I think I could get that done.”

SFBK head coach Glenn Braica on his inexperienced front line players – “I think it’s a work in progress. It is a very different team than what we had the last couple of years. The last few years, we’ve had better and more big guys than I ever thought we would have here when I took the job. They were productive. This team is more like the type of team I thought I would have when I started here. We’re probably guard-oriented to start. I like our big guys, it is just that they have no experience.” 

Braica on his expected guard play – “I think we are going to try play faster and get after people a little bit. We have a lot more guys who can make plays on the perimeter. In the past, we had guys like Brent Jones or Yunus (Hopkinson) end of the shot clock off a ball screen, Glenn Sanabria in his first year. Now, we have multiple guys. I think our guards can really score and make plays.”

SFU head coach Rob Krimmel on who becomes the starting point guard in place of injured Malik Harmon – “Jamaal knows how to play the position. He is a very good defender. I think the only two things have in common is their size. Jamaal is a little bit smaller but they’re very different. Both true point guards. It’ll be a little bit by committee. One of things we want to do with Georgios (Angelou) is allow him to shoot the basketball. If he is not the best shooter I’ve ever coached, he is up in the top two I’ll say. His ability to shoot the basketball, I don’t want him to have to do too much but it is nice to have a guy like him that can handle the basketball as maybe a secondary ball handler in the halfcourt.”

Krimmel on status of sophomore Isaiah Blackmon who missed the final eight games of last season due to a knee injury – “This was his first week of full contact practice. He had been doing some 5-on-0 stuff, some 3-on-0 stuff. The plan was always to bring him along at a slower pace than he expected. The doctors cleared him about a month ago. Actually today is eight months out of his surgery. The surgery went well and he did a great job with his rehab. We don’t need him November 1, we need him January 1 and we said out of this whole thing, it is not a three-month process for him, it is a three-year process because he is only a sophomore so we want to make sure that we have the knee so that it is (also) healthy three years from now.”

Krimmel on the emergence of sophomore Josh Nebo – “He is one of the guys we are going to rely on when we talk about development and taking that next step. He can be Robin to Ronnie Drinnon’s Batman last year. Each year, as one moves on, as we develop those post players, we asked him to be more aggressive offensively and be that scorer on the block for us. He is really versatile out on the perimeter too. At 6’8″, 225 pounds, he takes one dribble and one step and he’s at the rim. He will always be a good defender, he is already in the top ten in the history of the school in blocked shots. We are going to rely on him to play to those strengths but ask him to do a little more around the basket and be more of a scorer in the post and he has embraced it.”

Wagner head coach Bashir Mason on what his team’s mindset coming into this season – “You know what, just really taking things day by day. Just trying to get better. Not trying to look at the season in a whole but breaking down into small parts. Our first goal this season is to have a winning record in the non-conference. As we progress into the conference, we want to be regular season champs and then tournament champs and have a chance to go into the NCAAs. Just breaking the season into small parts and trying to obtain each goal as we go.”

Mason on his team’s hunger to win the NEC – “I think guys being able to have that experience of a year ago has probably made them excited, made them a little bit more hungry to probably get back to that moment and try to change it. With this group, I don’t want to look at the whole picture, I want these guys to focus on the day-to-day, the week-to-week. And when we are in that situation, if we’re gotten better throughout this season, if we have grown, if have gotten some chemistry and we are doing all of the little things the right way, we will be fine.”

Sacred Heart head coach Anthony Latina on the status of redshirt junior Mario Matasovic – “We anticipate him being ready for the first game, that’s the plan. He is jogging now so he is running. Hope to get him into contact next week. He had a Jones fracture in his foot and he had a bad ankle sprain too. The fracture is now fully healed but he couldn’t do any rehab on the ankle because the foot was so immobilized. The plan is, we’re comfortable that he’ll be ready for the Fairfield game.”

Latina on the depth of his team over last season – “(The depth is) significantly better. It’s no question. I feel very comfortable with the eleven eligible guys on scholarship. We only have twelve scholarship guys this year, Cavan LaRose is sitting out and I feel one through eleven could help us one way or another. I did not feel that way last year. Now we aren’t going to play eleven guys, our top nine I feel really good about. I feel if we have an injury, now it can’t be to the wrong guy, but I feel if we someone in our top nine (go down) barring one or two guys, I think we can absorb it.”

SHU’s De’Von Barnett on how he handled having to sit out last season due to injury – “The first couple of games were absolutely devastating. (Former SHU point guard and current graduate manager) Phil Gaetano is one of my older brothers and he sat down and talked to me and said to just sit back and just learn and become a student of the game. Once I did that, the rest of the season became easy because I started helping my teammates. I let them know what I see what they were doing wrong on the floor and then practice would come and I would help fix any problem they had. So it basically was helping me mature into helping me to be a leader this year.”

RMU head coach Andy Toole on the rare difficulties of last season – “Everything wasn’t as crisp as it normally have been. I took a ton of responsibility for that but I couldn’t figure out a way to get everybody on the same page and understanding what was really important when it comes to winning and losing. We didn’t do a good enough job of setting aside some individual agendas for the team goals. Looking back there was probably some things, some warning signs that I probably didn’t handle well enough that I should have addressed earlier. We have had a lot of discussions as a team already this year on how we are going to need to play, the roles guys are going to have to have, and you have to be ok with those roles and buy into those roles and embrace those roles and try and excel in those roles and last year there was constantly some flux on what guys thought they should be doing and what guys were actually doing. Like I said, these guys have responded well.”

Toole on how RMU plans to get back on track in 2016-17 – “The number one thing we’ve talked about and we didn’t do last year and that we need to get back to is competing at the right level. Everything starts with that. That was how our program was known. Hard-nosed, blue-collar team that was going to compete and try to outwork you and we got away from that a little bit. We got a number of new faces, a number of returners that are all understanding the level they need to practice at and prepare at if they want to have success. It is something that we talked a ton about with Kavon (Stewart) and Aaron Tate and Billy Giles, our three senior captains and they got to help us set the tone and everybody has got to be on the same page when it comes to how we are going to execute offense and execute defense, if we don’t want to repeat some of the mistakes of last year.”

LIU Brooklyn head coach Jack Perri on how important senior leadership will be this season – “This is the culmination after a few years of these guys grinding it out. It’s a big year for these guys and they know it. They have a sense of urgency to them. They’ve had a sense of urgency to them all of preseason. They’ve done a really good job. We have a good group. You’re talking about four seniors that have been through a lot and they know it, it’s now or never. That is a little bit unique. Last year, we had no seniors. The year before that, we had one or two seniors so to have a good group that understands and gets it certainly helps and they have done a good job in practice. They have done a good job with the younger kids.”

Perri on the progression of their preseason – “We’re working our way through some things. We talked about with the change of the roster. Going into the spring having one team thinking we had one team and now having a little bit of a different, dynamic team, we’re really focusing on that front court and changing the way we play a little bit. We have had to do a little more breakdown drills. You would think an older team, practice would be less breakdown drills and you’ll able to go faster but now with a new backcourt, we had to slow down a little bit and do some different things, do some more breakdown things. But I think they have picked things up well, our freshmen, so we’re in a good spot, we’re in a good place.”

LIU Brooklyn senior forward Jerome Frink on stepping into a senior co-captain role this season – “We got to lead (the younger guys) to the right spots. Show them the ropes. Beat them up a little bit in practice so they get used to it during games. Me and Joel (Hernandez, senior co-captain) is teaching them how to be a leader when we leave so the next group of juniors will come and show ’em and do the right things and become a little bit better than us.”

Mount St. Mary’s head coach Jamion Christian on how much he loves this year’s team – “First of all, I love this team. I can’t tell you how much I love this team. For each one of us coaches in the league, this is a lifelong mission to build these programs. All of us started out as kids playing the game, we transition into coaching and you just try to build a program sort of in your likeness of things that how you think the game should be played. So I really excited about this team. I love our depth. I love our talent. Even with the experience we have and with the youth, this is the first time in my time here we had a really good junior class, an outstanding sophomore (class) and a talented freshman (class). Some of recruiting structure takes some time. Our recruiting structure start out really young, so we are starting to see the dividends from the tournament run. I’m really excited about this team. I would say I’m in love with this team and our ability to make plays and our ability to play together. It’s really special.”

Christian on his ability to reload his roster year after year – “Intangibly, I think you got to look deep into each person’s heart. Try to find what is in their soul. We’re trying to find guys who are really humble. I know it sounds really crazy. I want guys who are humble and hungry, that really buy into a team process. That really have a great vision. I told Elijah (Long) when we recruited him, we said you have to broad shoulders because the program you are coming into right now is going to better by the time you get there and then you are going to have to carry the weight moving forward. So I think intangibly, we really spend a lot of time evaluating the right people.”

Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Greg Herenda on the challenge of being picked number one in the NEC preseason poll – “We are going to practice the same way. We just competing. Our goal obviously is win the championship. That was our goal was when I first got on campus and it happened faster. But we have a lot of improvement ahead of us. We need to defend better, we need to rebound better and we need to improve. Last year, we won a championship while we were evolving as a team, as a program but I love my guys. I just really proud that not only that we win a championship but we won the highest grade point average so these guys are doing the right things on the floor and off the floor. I’m a very lucky coach. It has everything to do with my players but I just think in this conference, for top to bottom, there is very little (difference), and last year proves it. Last year, we were picked ninth last year and with the same players, we are picked first so the coaches were wrong last year so maybe they’ll get it right this year. I don’t know. It is just business as usual for us, that we were playing hard, competing hard and expect the best on every possession.”

Herenda on what they would like to improve on this season – “Our last ten games last year, we were 5-5. The five games prior to our five game run, we didn’t make shot and we weren’t guarding and we weren’t rebounding and consequently you lose so we dedicated our practices and our coaches preparation this year into rebounding and playing better defense and into rebounding better. If we do that and make shots and play good offense, we have talented players, we’ll be heading in the right direction.”

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